July 31st 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: What the COAG Water Agreement means

EDITORIAL: Issues facing the Howard Government

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kim Beazley's return masks Labor's divisions over US

AUSFTA: Will Green preferences sink trade agreement?

NATIONAL COMPETITION POLICY: SA Government heads towards dismantling single selling-desk for barley

DEREGULATION: Stock Journal survey rejects new SA Barley Export Bill

QUARANTINE BREACH: Inquiry needed on citrus canker

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Boswell sees red over Senate marriage delay

EDUCATION: School vouchers - giving power back to parents

SOCIAL POLICY: Singapore's Provident Fund adapts to new realities

FILM: Appeals against degrading movies rejected

MEDIA: Victory on TV Code of Practice

HEALTH: Abortion causes uterine damage

VICTORIA: Are we facing a long dry spell?

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Peacock Throne / The Stasi never died / Supersized

CINEMA: Whatever happened to the family film?

Distributism defended (letter)

People without land (letter)

Ethanol industry viable (letter)

OBITUARY: Vale Brian Nash

OBITUARY: Vale Martin Klibbe

BOOKS: Nightmare of the Prophet, by Paul Gray

BOOKS: Memo for a Saner World, by Bob Brown

BOOKS: So Monstrous A Travesty, by Ross McMullin

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Distributism defended (letter)

by Tim Wallace

News Weekly, July 31, 2004

Reading Peter Hunt's criticisms of Race Mathews' book on distributism and the Mondragon network of co-operatives (News Weekly, July 17), I am reminded of a number of famous Chesterton lines, but perhaps none more than GKC's statement that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly.

It may be that the schema mapped by Mathews for the application of distributist principles does not resonate with the high romance of a bygone age when each man was king of his own hill.

But as Chesterton said, it takes a democracy before you can have a revolution, and before we have the luxury of dreaming, as Dr Hunt does, of the dissolution of corporate centralism, we had better devote our attention to making the modern corporation democratic, and therefore open to being decentralised.

I suspect the reason Dr Mathews doesn't say much about farming and the distribution of land in Jobs of Our Own is that not a lot needs to be said; any admirer of Chesterton would know his deep feelings for the yeoman farmer along with the individual shop keeper.

But it should not escape notice that over the past century, fewer and fewer people - especially in the First World - actually make their living directly off the land, and more and more people work for large corporations.

If distributism does not speak to that reality, it is as irrelevent as orthodox socialism, a dead philosphy.

Distributist ideas are not irrelevant. Though they might still be built upon the riotous romance of the individual claiming as much economic and political sovereignty over their own person as possible - distributism does not rest on the fiction that the solution is for everyone to get back to the land or to work for themselves. Yes, let there be family farms and the like, but let us not disparage the encouragement of other structures that address the rest of the distributist mission - the individual ownership of the means of livelihood and the dispersal of unnecessarily large aggregates of industrial and commercial capital.

Note that word "unnecessarily". Aggregation of capital, or indeed power, is sometimes necessary, as the principle of subsidiarity recognises. The question is to what end it serves, and whose interests.

If Chesterton detested large corporations, I think it was not simply because they were large per se, but because they were unnecessarily large, and that largeness served the interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Tim Wallace
Surry Hills, NSW

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